September 29th – Boulder           No. 20 Colorado 20, No.12 Washington 14

In a battle between two ranked teams in search of national recognition, Colorado held off a late Washington drive to defeat the Huskies in Boulder, 20-14. A defensive first half gave way to a flurry of scoring in the third quarter, with the game ending with the Colorado defense backed up against its goalline. Sophomore cornerback Deon Figures intercepted a Mark Brunell pass in the endzone with only :59 left to play to preserve the Colorado win.

The first drive of the contest was all Washington, as the Huskies took the opening kickoff and marched 80 yards in 15 plays to post a 7-0 lead. The Washington drive consumed 8:35 of the first quarter, keeping the football away from the explosive Buff offense until only 6:25 remained in the opening stanza. The Washington score made Colorado opponents in 1990 a perfect five-for-five – in each game the Buffs’ opponent scored first.

All Colorado could muster in the first half on offense was a 47-yard field goal in the second quarter by Jim Harper. Fortunately for the Buffs, the Colorado defense stymied the Husky offense the remainder of the half, limiting Washington to only 21 yards after the impressive opening drive.

The halftime score was 7-3, Washington.

The second half proved to be a different game, as the Colorado offense netted 204 yards of offense in the third quarter alone (more than both teams had mustered in the first half combined). The Buffs turned an 80-yard drive in eight plays into a go-ahead touchdown, with Darian Hagan scoring from 15 yards out to give the Buffs their first lead of the day at 10-7. Any hopes Buff fans had that the Washington offense would continue to be stymied, though, were quickly quashed, after Washington answered with a 10-play, 65-yard drive of its own. A 40-yard pass from Mark Brunell to Mario Bailey ate up much of the yardage. 14-10, Washington.

Colorado took the lead for good on its next possession, going 80 yards in just six plays. A 35-yard pass from Hagan to Mike Pritchard set up a three-yard Hagan run and a 17-14 Colorado lead. Jim Harper’s second field goal of the afternoon, this time from 32 yards out with 13:05 to play, gave Colorado a 20-14 lead. Harper’s score though, came with a bit of trickery. In punt formation in Buff territory – and with only a 17-14 lead – punter Tom Rouen passed to reserve linebacker Paul Rose for a 24-yard gain and a drive-sustaining first down. “I thought it was great,” said Rouen. “I always wanted to throw the football, and I finally got the opportunity.”

No more points would be scored by either squad, but the Colorado faithful could not rest until the final minute. “I just remember thinking it wasn’t over, said Colorado offensive lineman Ariel Solomon. “You just knew something was going to happen.” After Darian Hagan suffered a shoulder sprain early in the fourth quarter, backup quarterback Charles Johnson directed a drive deep into Washington territory, but the drive ended with a fumble.

Two Washington drives were thwarted by Colorado interceptions inside the Buff 20-yard line. The second by Figures was the most dramatic, as it sealed the Colorado win with under a minute to play and Washington zeroing in on the Colorado goalline. (More on Washington’s final drive below).

“That was an outstanding football team we beat,” said Bill McCartney. “I’m real proud of our guys.”

With the victory, Colorado had escaped the non-conference portion of its schedule with a 3-1-1 record. Not the result the Buffs and their fans had envisioned coming off of an 11-1 campaign, but not a disaster, either. “Coach Mac had a board on the wall with every game on the season on it,” said Solomon. “After that slow start, he broke the season down for us. He told us we had to take it game by game. He said our dreams and aspirations weren’t over. He told us to take his word for it – they weren’t over.”

The tough early season schedule was taken into consideration as the Buffs moved up to 12th in the next poll. No other school in the top 17 except for Tennessee (3-0-2 after tying Auburn) were ranked as high with two blemishes on its record. The Big Eight schedule, in comparison to the non-conference slate, seemed mediocre. Before facing Oklahoma in four weeks, Colorado would face Missouri (4-7 in 1989, 2-2 for the 1990 campaign); Iowa State (6-5, 2-2); and Kansas (4-7, 1-3). With a few convincing wins over the bottom half of the Big Eight, Colorado would be primed to resume its place in the top ten in the polls, and would be back amongst the nation’s elite.

The two early season blemishes on Colorado’s record seemed to be the blackest mark on their national pedigree as the Buffs took the field in Columbia, Missouri, to face the Tigers.

The Buffs would leave the field a few hours later embroiled in a national controversy.

Best Seats in the House
 In 1990, our tickets were not the best. Not even close.

For the Colorado/Washington game, we were in the north end zone of Folsom Field. For those too young to remember, in the pre Dal Ward upgrade days, there were wooden bleachers in the north bleachers, and they were falling apart. The boards upon which we were to rest our feet were weakened to the point where we were afraid to stand on them. These were seats normally set aside for visiting fans. If enough tickets were returned by the visitors, though, they were available for “financially challenged” alumni.

Guess which category Brad and I fell into in 1990?

The entire afternoon was tense. Watching Washington methodically march down the field to take a 7-0 lead on the game’s opening drive was disheartening at best. With the Buffs up late in the game, the Huskies set off on a similar drive. As the fourth quarter clock dwindled, Washington kept the ball on the ground, punishing the tired Colorado defense. A Washington touchdown to win the game seemed inevitable, and it would take place right in front of us in the north stands.

Then the improbable happened.

Washington started throwing the ball.

First-and-goal at the Colorado seven-yard line. Plenty of time on the game clock. Two or three runs to victory. Instead, Washington threw the ball. First down – incomplete. Second down – Alfred Williams batted down a Mark Brunell pass. Third down – Deon Figures knocked down a pass in the endzone.

Fourth down. No sense in a field goal attempt. Washington, down six, needed a touchdown.

The play was right before us. Yes, all of the fans with good seats could see what was happening, but this play was right in front of us in the north endzone. Deon Figures made the game-saving interception with just :59 left in the game, and he did it right in front of some delirious fans in the north endzone. Brad and I were ecstatic, but we had to keep our jumping up and down to a minimum for fear of breaking through our wooden seats.

Lousy seats?


As it turned out, we had the best seats in the house.


Game Notes –

– Washington entered the game with the nation’s best defense against the run, giving up only 23.3 yards per game. The Buffs finished with 183 yards, including 143 yards by Eric Bieniemy.

– Charlie Davis had 13 100-yard rushing games in his career (1971-73). With his 143 yards against Washington, Eric Bieniemy had the new record with his 14th 100-yard game. Bieniemy would go on to post over 100 yards in each of the remaining games in 1990, setting the new Colorado standard – 21 100-yard career games. Bieniemy would also set a new standard for consecutive games with 100 yards in eight consecutive games.

– Sophomore Deon Figures had his only two interceptions of  the 1990 season in the game against Washington, including the game-winner in the final minute of play. In his career at Colorado, Figures would capture 12 enemy passes, then the fourth most in Colorado history. Figures would go on to be named a consensus All-American in 1992, and would be selected as the Buffs’ first Jim Thorpe Award winner, given to the nation’s top defensive back.

– The 52,868 in attendance represented the ninth largest crowd in Folsom Field history, and the largest against a non-Big Eight opponent.

– Tom Rouen’s 24-yard pass to Paul Rose on the fake punt was the first passing attempt by a Colorado punter since Barry Helton was intercepted on a fake punt against Stanford in 1987. Helton was successful on two other fake attempts, hitting Mickey Pruitt for 17 yards against Missouri in 1986, and a 31-yard touchdown pass to Jon Embree on a fake field goal attempt against Washington in the 1985 Freedom Bowl.

– The Washington game represented the first time in two years in which the Buffs had three passers complete a throw. Against the Huskies, Hagan, Johnson, and Rouen had completions. In 1988, Sal Aunese, Darian Hagan, and Marc Walters all had completions against Oklahoma State in Stillwater.

– Safety Tim James had an interception against Washington, giving him four for the season. His 11 career interceptions moved him into third on the all-time list, behind only John Stearns (16) and Dick Anderson (14).

– On the day, Washington had five possessions inside the Colorado 20-yard line, but scored only twice, with the other three possessions resulting in a missed field goal and two interceptions.

– Washington opened the 1990 season with three wins, and would follow the loss to Colorado with a five game winning streak, rising to No. 2 in the polls. Only a 25-22 loss to UCLA kept the Huskies out of the national championship race. A 46-34 win over Iowa in the Rose Bowl earned 10-2 Washington a No. 5 final ranking (and would propel the Huskies on to a share of the national title in 1991).


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